Daren Sparks youth coordinator Valemount (3)

By: Korie Marshall

Valemount’s new youth drop-in centre, for kids aged 12-19, will soon open its doors right next to the family centre.

Daren Sparks, Youth Coordinator for the CBT-sponsored Community Directed Youth Funds program, says it’s been a long time in the making, but he is really excited. Having a drop-in centre was the biggest thing on the youths’ wish list when the Learning Centre took over management of the program and hired him, about eight months ago. Sparks ran a contest this past winter to pick the name, and had a friend in Edmonton combine the kids’ ideas for a logo.

The V-Crew centre is expected to open in early July. Valemount Council recently approved a temporary use permit to use the former Valley Sentinel offices for public assembly. The Canoe Valley Community Association recently got a renewed permit for the other side of the building, which houses Kinnickinnickers Family Centre.

Sparks says the drop-in centre will likely be open from 4-8 on weekdays and noon to 5 on the weekends. He’s hoping to have help from volunteers, but he feels both attached and excited about the centre, and wants to be there whenever it is open. His mom, who recently passed away, also helped set up a number of youth centres in small communities across the west. Sparks misses her advice and passion for the work but says, “She really helped me get my head in the right place when I came here for this job.” His parents also wanted to move to Valemount, so he feels honoured to be here, and be part of this project. He wants to make Valemount the model for other youth drop-in centres, and hopes it can give more opportunities to local youth, as well as welcome new kids coming to town.

He’s is working on getting a pool table for the centre, and kids are already coming to him with ideas for decorating the inside: painting a dragon on one wall, and painting another wall black and spattering it with balloons filled with neon paint are just a few of the ideas so far. He’s also planning to set up his drum kit and other instruments, and offer the chance for kids to learn and jam together.

“Music saved my life,” says Sparks. Growing up, he didn’t play hockey, so he didn’t seem to fit in with the kids at many of the small town schools he attended. But learning to play music gave him self-esteem and confidence, as well as acceptance from his peers.

It may not look like it, but there’s been a lot done in the last eight months, though Sparks’ position is only a part-time gig. There’s been a lot of groundwork, like making connections with the community and getting permits, but he’s also been meeting with the kids, organizing parkour demos at the elementary school earlier this year, and planning a short film featuring youth in the community. He’s been working with some kids who have already shown aptitude with film and sound, and a willingness to help other kids learn too. He’s been looking for funding and working on a partnership with VCTV and station manager Gord Peters, and he hopes to do a casting call and start shooting this winter.

Speaking of parkour, the guys from APE (Alternative Physical Education) that Sparks brought to Valemount this spring are coming back this summer for a weekend training camp at the Tete Jaune Lodge. Parkour is the art of using only your body to move quickly and creatively around obstacles.

“Parkour is really about being creative with movement, and being quick but safe,” said Todd, one of the trainers from APE who visited the elementary school.

The camp is for kids aged 12-18, and runs August 19-21.

Sparks will likely spend a lot of time in the building on Commercial Drive this summer, because he’s also been hired on a part-time basis right next door to where the V-Crew centre – as youth coordinator for the younger group of kids, aged 6-12, through Kinnickinnickers. The Canoe Valley Community Association has recently expanded their youth programs to help give activities and opportunities to kids aged 6-12 through the Kinnickinnickers Family Centre, in the other side of the same building.

By working two jobs, Sparks is also hoping to scrape up enough money to get a reliable vehicle so he can visit his own children in Edmonton. It’s also a good example of how local organizations can coordinate their services and work together.

Sparks says he plans to organize a street dance and BBQ when the youth drop in centre is ready for a grand opening.